One for None by m.g. martin
One for None (Ink. Press), the first book of poetry by m.g. martin, is a puzzling, dense, wonder of a book that would almost certainly not have been published without the existence of a small, independent press. Within are poems of such range and scope that even the author and his publisher failed to properly organize them. Broken into two sections: Spoken and Words, One for None does justice neither to martin’s astonishing performative abilities nor to his incisive and erudite wordcraft; what it does, on first (and maybe even second) read, is overwhelm: "He could dash one of these off any minute," you might think, or: "I’m not sure he really spent much time putting these together -- they each have a mind of their own."
It is fitting, then, that the book starts out with a key:
MANIFESTO-n. see: DEFINITION
DEFINTION-n. a pulchritudinous phrase
proclaiming the mean
ing of a noun’s essence
not to be confused with
see: MANIFEST DEFINESTINY
MANIFEST DEFINESTINY-n. when the who
is not why the what is not
where everything is. not
to be confused with conf
usion- a state considered
to be the only state of being.
do not take the cake &
keep weary of a free offer.
nothing is offered for a fee
of free price. great manifestors
steal, but why who &
what they pilfer is the problem.
trust only the snake’s shadow
which is to say do not trust
words. definestiny is never
to be written, read but on
ly spoken. think of syllabic
emphasis for inspiration.
think of rain screams wind
slaps & cloud blinks
for inspiration. think of
sound dreams for the words
only to be spoken & never
written like dreams so
often are. think of the pop of
YOU ARE THE MANIFEST
DO NOT TRUST YR EYES
“Manifest Definestiny” is a term that, although martin has just defined it, is not otherwise real. Yet it strikes with more force than the real, variable like “yrself” and thus contrary to the static words of a page. But when you run “yrself” over them like -- to use a phrase from a later poem -- “fingers over brail,” they play something of a song that brings them to life. “DO NOT TRUST YR EYES,” he explains. “See: yrself.” The generation of words is a result of the sounds they make in the author’s head, sounds he hears with an audience in mind. It may be helpful to consider sound the “shadow” of his words. In this sense, m.g. martin’s poems are more alive than had they been written without consideration of their “shadows.”
Sound cracks the whip throughout the Spoken section, but does not do all the work. In the above poem, martin does not stop at one source of inspiration but pushes it, giving examples that further shed light onto but also punctuate the point with sound. When he later claims that he can “out phantom a shadow,” martin speaks not only of his acute awareness of the interplay between sound and meaning but also of his preternatural ability to use one against the other to propel his writing into unexpected, yet controlled, places. Despite the fact that the form of this Spoken section is inspired by shadows, the progression of its poems is so thematically coherent that the form it constitutes could be its own mini-chapbook.
This idea of “emphasis for inspiration,” in a lesser text, would preclude the occurrence of signifiers (in this sense I mean specific words that appear in different poems and thereby reference their previous contexts, concurrently enriching the text as a whole, coherent work). But signifiers are abundant and unequivocal, even in the Spoken section.
In the second poem, “in utero i read roget’s thesaurus,” martin glorifies his innate commitment to originality only to realize that this is not enough definition. That he is so utterly mercurial, it would seem, is also something of a setback; he has to put his own shadows in order.
in high school i spent days walking
fire island with an oven on my head
begging for a date with a double gauge
or a dune buggy
dr. gonzo sylvie plath & frank o’hara
these days instead of canary yellow carnations
i keep a pack of ball point pens pinned
to my lapel to document every instance
i’ve inseminated my trash can
with so many lines of dead verse
my trash can is now called: hearse.
searched for my voice so many times
i’ve permanently lost my voice
but won’t share a line with anyone
for fear of plagiarism though when i sit
to fill papyrus with ink next to me
are books i steal from by word wizards
who’ve mastered the art of think.
at night, i lie in bed, watching the shadows
of the alphabet creep up my bedroom walls
daring me to do it.
He attempts “to document every instance & occasion” because what makes us unique is not a quantified stock of genetics but the particular experiences we go through. It’s no longer time to identify with books, or even with other people (rest in peace, heroes). The sequences he creates out of an unchanging alphabet will define who he is.
The next poem, “children pressing knives to mother’s throat (isn’t fun),” is not the missive against gasoline that it might appear to be, but a condemnation of its fixated use in our country and thereby a continuation of the theme in “in utero.”
“the smog of your urban haikai: / an acidic conjuration / of empty language & vertigo image.”
Gasoline, like a word -- like any noun -- does not mean a thing in itself. It is this tendency in our culture to take things for granted -- what they are, what they mean fundamentally -- that destroys the transubstantive properties inherent within us.
don’t you see that i am older than art?
i can out break a wave
i can out dance the devil
i can out set the sun
i can out croon a canary
i can out run the horizon
i can out talk your tongues
i can out phantom a shadow
i can out venom the viper
i can out-weigh gravity
i can out naked an infant, but
out live eternity
when you smother me
with your onyx moonshine.
Notice that the same person devoted to originality is above before and beyond all earthly things and, thus, indefinable; notice the recurring images: canary, snake, shadow; notice the seemingly redundant use of verbs to indicate his stunting by gasoline: stunted, he’s still trying to closely approximate -- despite the firm definition of the stunting noun.
In “Mango Scones,” martin applies this inherent meaninglessness of all nouns to placeholders, with the first line: “Israel, it’s just like Kentucky.” This opening gets our attention and stays in our heads, reverberating. But what does it mean? It’s not about Israel and Kentucky. It is “a blinding metaphor” -- the more we think about it, the less inherent sense it has and the more we are forced to force meaning upon it.
In the next poem, “amiri baraka likes neither of us (after leroi jones),” martin demands of us that we not just settle for any meaning.
we: artistes: sitting around writing clichés
about rainbows & sparrows &
cigarettes & sex.
ah! alliteration! ah! lineation!
oh! meter! oh! verse!...
art ain’t even close to as serious as life
in palestine, rwanda, myanmar, china, etc., etc., etc…
6/10ths of 1% of americans
love us: because we
the artistes are without sense enough
to harness the vigorous muscle
of the one thing we believe holds
any worth or any verve
this inanimately breathing vehicle: art.
next time you pick up your guitar
your brush (or)
to create a facsimile of the fact
that violets really are: blue
stop & think & say fuck you
fuck me, too.
The ‘manifesto’ represents the type of art martin is committing to make. Not facsimiles. It is not the poet’s job to bring the sunset to those who are too foolish to go out and watch it. It is for the poet to use art as a “vehicle” for growth; but not just for personal growth, not one for one. The purpose of art here is to sustain and promulgate the nature of the spirit that does “outlive eternity.” To define oneself in a way that embraces interpretation.
The poems that flesh out the rest of One for None are the patterns and colors of the snakeskin of a young poet who has more talent than he knows what to do with, a freak fossil that some in the future will find and about which they’ll wonder: what animal could this be, and how did the parts fit together?
Herein are haikus, poems that attempt to come to terms with the book itself and with different ways of writing poetry; there is even something of a short story at the end in which Modernism is the main character. Line breaks in the Words section still hinge on an emphasis of language but, instead of relying on the author for definition, shift responsibility to the reader. Those who find this book -- now or in the future -- may construct an animal from its very first molting. The vision they conceive may be uneven and unsustainable. Yet when we hold it in our hands we will conjecture: that something like this could exist! It will say more about the nature of being than about any animal that ever was … or could be.
One for None by m.g. martin